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Cocaine deaths for Blacks on the rise

By Nisa Islam Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Dec 14, 2017 - 3:24:48 PM

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While the news focuses on the rampant opioid drug crisis, which mainly affects White people, Blacks are dying from cocaine overdoses at about the same rate and level as opioid overdoses.


This startling news was released December 4, in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. “Opioids were the most common contributor to overdose deaths in non-Hispanic White persons, but cocaine was the largest contributor among non-Hispanic Black men and women over all periods,” notes the study.

“Numerous U.S. national surveillance studies and media reports have highlighted an alarming rise in drug poisoning deaths in recent years,” Meredith Shiels, a co-author of the study and an investigator at the National Cancer Institute, told media and reporters.

“However, most of the studies focus on opioid-related deaths, including prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl. They also tend to emphasize the fact that death rates are “rising most rapidly among White Americans,” she said.

During all time periods in the study, the overdose death numbers between Whites and Blacks were similar. The study authors found between 2012 and 2015, the death rate for Black men using cocaine was 7.6 people for every 100,000 people and it was 7.9 people for every 100,000 people for White prescription opioid overdose deaths.

They also found similar numbers for the time period 2004 to 2007. However, before that time the gap widens as opioid abuse was just in its beginning stages.

“Decades ago, Black people didn’t even do cocaine. It was a high price White man’s drug,” Khalillah Ali, a nurse practitioner whose home health care practice serves drug addicts in Dallas told The Final Call. “Now that Black people have been introduced to cocaine, it’s a more chemicalized version. People don’t really know what they are getting.”

“So many people are involved in its production. Pure cocaine only exists in Columbia which is the top cocaine producing country. Once it gets to your neighborhood, you don’t know what you are getting,” she explained.

Last May at a U.S. subcommittee Senate hearing, “Stopping the Shipment of Synthetic Opioids: Oversight of U.S. Strategy to Combat Illicit Drugs,” Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Gilson testified that drug dealers may be mixing cocaine with fentanyl to increase the prevalence of opioid addiction in the Black community.

“Cocaine had been the only drug that victims were predominately African American,” Dr. Gilson told the subcommittee. “The covert introduction of fentanyl into the cocaine supply has caused a rapid rise in fatalities and in 2017, the rate of African American fentanyl related deaths has doubled from 2016.”

Just in Cuyahoga County, fentanyl contributed to the deaths of 58 Black people last year, up from 25 in 2015. Only five Black people died from fentanyl use in 2014, according to statistics.

Dr. Gilson believes the rise is likely attributed to drug dealers mixing fentanyl with cocaine. The mixture could result in increasing numbers of Black people becoming addicted to opioids and using heroin and fentanyl, he said.

The report from the Annals of Internal Medicine, looking at cocaine deaths by race during specific periods is the first of its kind during the rapid increase in opioid deaths.

“This is not just an opioid use crisis of historic proportions. There is a more general drug misuse crisis,” study co-author David Thomas, a health scientist at the National Institute on Drug Abuse explained. That general misuse crisis includes the devastation not only to the drug user but also to the drug user’s family and community

“While I thought my drug use was just about me, I didn’t realize until it was too late the ripple effects of what I was doing,” Adrian Harrison (name change) told The Final Call. “When I lost my job, my family suffered. When I stole from my wife, my family suffered. When I stole from my parent, my family suffered. Having to get me out of jail, my family suffered,” he shared.

“I saw my friends’ families get destroyed. Even when they overdosed, the family continued to suffer after they were gone. That was kind of a wakeup call for me. I didn’t want to die from drugs, I didn’t want my children to have to come to my funeral because cocaine was king in my life.”

Mr. Harrison found a way out from his drug addiction and cleaned up his life. One less drug overdose to count he explained.